Santa Barbara County History

History of Santa Barbara County, CA

Source: Wikipedia

Santa Barbara County is a county located on the Pacific coast of the southern portion of the U.S. state of California, just west of Ventura County. As of 2000 the county had a population of 399,347. The estimated total population of Santa Barbara County as of January 2006 was 421,625, according to The California Department of Finance. The county seat is Santa Barbara and the largest city is Santa Maria.


The Santa Barbara County area, including the Northern Channel Islands, was first settled by Native Americans at least 13,000 years ago. Evidence for a Paleoindian presence has been found in the form of a fluted Clovis-like point found in the 1980s along the western Santa Barbara Coast, as well as the remains of Arlington Springs Man found on Santa Rosa Island in the 1960s. For thousands of years, the area was home to the Chumash tribe of Native Americans, complex hunter-gatherers who lived along the coast and in interior valleys leaving rock art in many locations including Painted Cave.

Europeans first contacted the Chumash in AD 1542, when three Spanish ships under the command of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo explored the area. The Santa Barbara Channel received its name from Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino when he sailed over the channel waters in 1602; he entered the channel on December 4, the day of the feast of Santa Barbara. Although Spanish ships associated with the Manila Galleon trade probably contacted the Chumash intermittently during this "protohistoric" period, the Spanish first colonized Santa Barbara County in AD 1769, when the DeAnza expedition explored the area and laid plans to establish a series of missions and presidios (forts). Mission Santa Barbara was founded on December 4, 1786 in what is now Santa Barbara. The county derives its name from the mission.

European contacts had devastating effects on the Chumash Indians, including a series of disease epidemics that drastically reduced Chumash population. The Chumash survived, however, and thousands of Chumash descendants still live in the Santa Barbara area or surrounding counties.

Santa Barbara County was one of the 26 original counties of California, formed in 1850 at the time of statehood. Parts of the county's territory were given to Ventura County in 1872.


Due to the dramatic differences in economic activity between the northern and southern areas of the county, Santa Barbara county has long been divided between competing political interests. North of the Santa Ynez Mountains, agricultural activities and oil development have long been predominant. In recent years, oil leases have been decommissioned, and more white-collar workers have been moving in as people choose to live in the northern areas and commute to the southern areas because of the more affordable housing prices in the north. On the other hand, the southern portion of Santa Barbara county has had an economy based on tourism, with a significant percentage of people with white-collar jobs, formerly in aerospace but more recently in software and other high-tech pursuits. Additionally, the northern portion contains a large military base, Vandenberg Air Force Base, and the southern portion has the University of California, Santa Barbara. Voting patterns in Santa Barbara county indeed reflect a strong split between a "conservative" north and "liberal" south.

Coastal Santa Barbara is part of California's California's 23rd congressional district, which is held by Democrat Lois Capps; the inland is part of the 24th district, which is held by Republican Elton Gallegly. In the State Assembly, Santa Barbara is in the 33rd and 35th districts, which are held by Republican Sam Blakeslee and Democrat Pedro Nava, respectively. In the State Senate, Santa Barbara is part of the 15th and 19th districts, which are held by Republicans Abel Maldonado and Tom McClintock, respectively.

Overall, Santa Barbara is a Democratic-leaning county in Presidential and congressional elections. The last Republican to win a majority in the county was George H. W. Bush in 1988.

The County is governed by a five member Board of Supervisors that reflects this ideological split. The Board's three vote majority has shifted over the years between the north and south. The Board majority now includes three members from the northern portion of the County.

The Board of Supervisors appoints a County Executive Officer, who serves at the pleasure of the Board, to operate the County governmental organization. The County government includes 4296 employees and a budget of $757 million. The County provides various services ranging from health services to law enforcement.

Proposed county splits

In 1978, some residents of the northern area initiated an effort to create a "Los Padres County" out of the northern area of the county; that effort did not succeed. In 2006, northern county organizations initiated a similar secession proposal, to create a proposed Mission County. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed a formation commission to research the viability of the proposed northern county, which reached the conclusion, stated in its final report (March 28, 2005) that "the proposed County, upon formation in 2006, would not be economically viable at current levels of service." In June 2006, voters rejected the formation of the new county.

The proposed new Mission County would have included the cities of Santa Maria, Lompoc, Guadalupe, Buellton, and Solvang, as well as the Cuyama Valley and Santa Ynez Valley, including Lake Cachuma. Most of the south coast of Santa Barbara County, along with the Channel Islands, would have remained with that county, with the exception of the stretch from Hollister Ranch to Point Conception. Most of the Los Padres National Forest also would have remained with Santa Barbara County.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 3,789 square miles (9,814 km²), of which, 2,737 square miles of it is land and 1,052 square miles of it (27.77%) is water. Four of the Channel Islands--San Miguel Island, Anacapa Island, Santa Cruz Island and Santa Rosa Island-- are in Santa Barbara County. They form the largest part of the Channel Islands National Park (which also includes Anacapa Island in Ventura County).

Santa Barbara County has a mountainous interior abutting a coastal plains area (often and inaccurately referred to as a valley). The largest concentration of people is on this coastal plain, referred to as the south coast—the part of the county south of the Santa Ynez Mountains--which includes the cities of Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Carpinteria, as well as the unincorporated areas of Hope Ranch, Mission Canyon, Montecito and Isla Vista. North of the mountains are the towns of Santa Ynez, Solvang, Buellton, Lompoc; the unincorporated towns of Los Olivos and Ballard; the unincorporated areas of Mission Hills and Vandenberg Village; and Vandenberg Air Force Base, where the Santa Ynez River flows out to the sea. North of the Santa Ynez Valley are the cities of Santa Maria and Guadalupe, and the unincorporated towns of Orcutt, Los Alamos, Casmalia, Garey, and Sisquoc. In the extreme northeastern portion of the county are the small cities of New Cuyama, Cuyama, and Ventucopa. As of January 1, 2006, Santa Maria has become the largest city in Santa Barbara County.

The principal mountain ranges of the county are the Santa Ynez Mountains in the south, and the San Rafael Mountains and Sierra Madre Mountains in the interior and northeast. Most of the mountainous area is within the Los Padres National Forest, and includes two wilderness areas: the San Rafael Wilderness and the Dick Smith Wilderness. The highest elevation in the county is 6820 feet at Big Pine Mountain in the San Rafaels.

North of the mountains is the arid and sparsely populated Cuyama Valley, portions of which are in San Luis Obispo and Ventura Counties. Oil production, ranching, and agriculture dominate the land use in the privately owned parts of the Cuyama Valley; the Los Padres National Forest is adjacent to the south, and regions to the north and northeast are owned by the Bureau of Land Management and the Nature Conservancy.

Air quality in the county, unlike much of southern California, is generally good because of the prevailing winds off of the Pacific Ocean. The county is in attainment of federal standards for ozone and particulate matter, but exceeds state standards for these pollutants. Sometimes in late summer and early autumn there are days with higher ozone levels; usually this occurs when there is a low inversion layer under a stagnant air mass, which traps pollutants underneath. In these cases a traveler into the mountains encounters a curious paradox: the temperature rises as altitude increases. On these days the visibility from the higher summits may be more than a hundred miles, while the population on the coastal plain experiences haze and smog.

Cities and towns

Hollister Ranch
Hope Ranch
Isla Vista
Los Alamos
Los Olivos
Mission Canyon
Mission Hills
New Cuyama
Santa Barbara
Santa Maria
Santa Ynez
Toro Canyon
Vandenberg Air Force Base
Vandenberg Village

Adjacent counties

San Luis Obispo County, California - north
Kern County, California - northeast
Ventura County, California - east

National protected areas

Channel Islands National Park (part)
Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge (part)
Los Padres National Forest (part)
Burton Mesa Ecological Reserve

Public transportation

Santa Barbara County is served by Amtrak trains and Greyhound Lines buses. The southern portion of the county is served by the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District. In the North County, the cities of Lompoc, Santa Maria, and Buellton/Solvang have their own bus services.


Santa Barbara Airport, is located near Goleta, west of Santa Barbara.
Santa Maria Public Airport is located just southwest of Downtown Santa Maria.
Lompoc Airport is located on the north side of Lompoc.
Santa Ynez Airport is just southeast of Santa Ynez.
Commercial flights are available at Santa Barbara Airport and Santa Maria Public Airport.


Santa Barbara County grew by only 0.2% from 2000-2005, while California on the whole grew over 7%. The percentage of Latinos grew to 37.3%, indicating that other racial groups experienced a decline in actual numbers. 54.1% of the population is Non-Hispanic White. The African American percentage remained steady and the percentage of Native Americans rose to 1.6%. 4.6% of the population was Asian. Only 2.2% of the population reported two or more races.

As of the census of 2000, there were 399,347 people, 136,622 households, and 89,487 families residing in the county. The population density was 146 people per square mile. There were 142,901 housing units at an average density of 52 per square mile. The racial makeup of the county was 72.72% White, 2.30% Black or African American, 1.20% Native American, 4.09% Asian, 0.18% Pacific Islander, 15.20% from other races, and 4.31% from two or more races. 34.22% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 9.1% were of German, 8.5% English and 6.5% Irish ancestry according to Census 2000. 26.58% of the population reported speaking Spanish at home.

There were 136,622 households out of which 32.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.4% were married couples living together, 10.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.5% were non-families. 24.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.8 and the average family size was 3.33.

In the county the population was spread out with 24.9% under the age of 18, 13.3% from 18 to 24, 29.0% from 25 to 44, 20.1% from 45 to 64, and 12.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 100.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.1 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $46,677, and the median income for a family was $54,042. Males had a median income of $37,997 versus $29,593 for females. The per capita income for the county was $23,059. About 8.5% of families and 14.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 16.3% of those under age 18 and 6.2% of those age 65 or over.

The population of the area south of the Santa Ynez Mountain crest—the portion known as "South County"—was 201,161 according to the 2000 census; thus the population is almost exactly split between north and south. Recent years have shown slow or even negative growth for regions in the south county, while areas in the north county have continued to grow at a faster rate.


There are 23 independent school districts in Santa Barbara County, and the Santa Barbara County Education Office serves as an intermediate agency between those districts and the California Department of Education. During the 2006-2007 school year, 67,523 students were enrolled in Santa Barbara County schools, kindergarten through grade 12.

Santa Barbara County Wine Country

Viticulture in Santa Barbara County is traceable to missionary plantings in the Milpas Valley late in the 18th century. Since commercial viticulture rebounded in the 1960s, Santa Barbara County has been on the fast track to viticultural stardom. The 2004 Alexander Payne film, Sideways was the darling of movie critics leading up to the Oscars and has brought worldwide attention to the wine region north of Santa Barbara featured in the film.

Famous for ripe, yet elegant, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the County is also gaining a reputation for Rhone varietals including Syrah and Viognier. Santa Barbara wine grapes now command among the highest prices anywhere in the state.

Located on California's South Central Coast, Santa Barbara County is an oasis of rolling hills, ancient oak trees and cattle ranches. The County now claims more than 60 wineries and 21,000 acres of vine, with the vast majority of the vineyards in the county’s three American Viticultural Areas: Santa Maria Valley AVA, Santa Ynez Valley AVA and Sta. Rita Hills AVA, each with its own distinct terroir. Santa Barbara's fame hasn’t come without hurdles, as environmental issues and the social impact of big business are major issues for a region striving to maintain its identity.

History of the City of Santa Barbara

Source: Wikipedia

The history of the city of Santa Barbara, California begins approximately 13,000 years ago with the arrival of the first Native Americans. The Spanish came in the 18th century to occupy and Christianize the area, which became part of Mexico following the Mexican War of Independence.

In 1848, the expanding United States acquired the town along with the rest of California as a result of defeating Mexico in the Mexican-American War. Santa Barbara transformed then from a dusty cluster of adobes into successively a rowdy, lawless Gold Rush era town; a Victorian-era health resort; a center of silent film production; an oil boom town; a town supporting a military base and hospital during World War II; and finally it became the economically diverse resort destination it remains in the present day. Twice destroyed by earthquakes, in 1812 and 1925, it most recently has rebuilt itself in a Spanish Colonial style.

Santa Barbara Presidio in 2005. Begun in 1782, The Presidio was the last
military outpost built by Spain anywhere in the Western Hemisphere.


The area along the Santa Barbara Channel, both near the city of Santa Barbara and on the Channel Islands, has been continuously inhabited by the Chumash Indians and their ancestors for at least 13,000 years; the oldest human skeleton yet found in North America, Arlington Springs Man, was unearthed on Santa Rosa Island, approximately 30 miles from downtown Santa Barbara. In more recent pre-Columbian times the natives had many villages along the shore, at least one of which (on present-day Mescalitan Island) had over a thousand inhabitants in the 16th century. They were peaceful hunter-gatherers, living on the region's abundant natural resources, and navigating the ocean in tomols, craft closely related to those used by Polynesians.

Spanish period

Mission Santa Barbara as it was in 2005. It was rebuilt after the 1812 earthquake,
and the towers were repaired again after the 1925 earthquake.

The first European to see the area was the Portuguese explorer João Cabrilho, who sailed through the Channel in 1542, and anchored briefly in the vicinity of Goleta. He injured himself on the trip, dying of his injury in January 1543, and was buried either on San Miguel Island or Mescalitan Island – the exact burial place of Cabrilho has long been a mystery. Sir Francis Drake also sailed past the area in 1579, but is not known to have made anchorage. In 1602, Sebastian Vizcaino gave the name "Santa Barbara" to the region, in gratitude for having survived a violent storm in the Channel on December 3, the eve of the feast day of Saint Barbara. However it was not until 1769 that Europeans established a land presence, with the arrival of Gaspar de Portolá and Franciscan missionary Junipero Serra. This team was sent by Carlos III to occupy the region, convert the natives to Christianity, and fortify it against perceived threats of other encroaching colonial powers – principally England and Russia.

Portola's expedition reached Santa Barbara on August 14, 1769, encountering exceptionally friendly natives, many of whom lived in Syuxtun, a village just in back of the beach between present-day Chapala and Bath streets. Indeed the natives – which the Spaniards dubbed the Canaliños for the "canoes" (actually tomols) they used so skillfully – so irritated their guests with gifts and boisterous music that Portola changed the location of his camp so his soldiers and missionaries could get some rest. Portola, however, did not stay, and it was not until 1782 that a force of soldiers, led by Don Felipe de Neve and again accompanied by Junipero Serra, came to build the Presidio, one of several military outposts meant to protect the area against foreign interests. While the Presidio was not completed until 1792, Padre Lasuén dedicated the new Mission Santa Barbara on the feast day of Santa Barbara (December 4, 1786). He chose for his building site the location of a Chumash village on Mission Creek named Tay-nay-án.

Many of the soldiers who came to build and garrison the Presidio had brought their families with them, and after their terms of service ended settled in Santa Barbara. They built their adobes near the Presidio, arranged haphazardly; a Boston journalist described the scatter of these buildings "as though fired from a blunderbuss."[8] Most of Santa Barbara's old families are descended from these early settlers, and many of their names linger in the street and place names, such as Cota, De la Guerra, Gutierriez, Carrillo, and Ortega.

Building the Mission itself continued throughout the rest of the century, along with the work of converting the Indians to Christianity, a task which proved difficult: according to the Mission registers, by 1805, only 185 of the more than 500 Indians in Santa Barbara had been baptized. The burial register shows that 3,997 Indians died between 1787 and 1841, the majority from diseases such as smallpox, to which the natives had no natural immunity. By 1803 the Mission's chapel was finished, and by 1807 a complete village for the Indians had been completed, largely by their own labor. The site of this village is on the Mission grounds along modern-day Constance Street.

On December 21, 1812, one of the largest earthquakes in California history completely destroyed the first Mission along with most of Santa Barbara. With an estimated magnitude of 7.2, and a hypothesized epicenter near Santa Cruz Island, the quake also produced a tsunami which carried water all the way to modern-day Anapamu Street, and carried a ship a half-mile up Refugio Canyon. Following the devastating earthquake, the Mission padres decided to build a larger and more elaborate Mission complex, which is the one that survives to the present day. While the church was ready in 1820, the bell towers were not finished until 1833.

The most serious military threat to Santa Barbara during the Spanish period was not by a colonial power, but by Hippolyte de Bouchard, a French privateer working for the Argentine government, which was, along with Mexico, attempting to throw off Spanish rule. Bouchard, who was given the task of destroying as many Spanish assets as possible, and in particular the ports in the Americas, possessed two well-armed frigates, which had sufficient armament and crews to destroy any lightly-defended towns they encountered. He had done exactly that to Monterey, the capital of Alta California, shortly before coming to Santa Barbara.

Bouchard landed first at Refugio Canyon, where they pillaged and burned the ranch belonging to the Ortega family, killing the cattle and slitting the throats of the horses. However, after being alerted by messengers from Monterey, the Presidio dispatched a squadron of cavalry, who caught three stragglers from the ill-disciplined raiding party and dragged them back to Santa Barbara in chains. Bouchard sailed the remaining twenty miles to Santa Barbara a few days later, anchoring off of present-day Milpas Street, and threatened to shell the town unless his men were returned to him. Jose De la Guerra, the commandante of the Presidio, granted his request, but Bouchard did not realize that he had been tricked: the town was not as heavily defended as it had seemed to be; the hundreds of cavalrymen Bouchard had seen through his spyglass were but the same few dozen riding in large circles, stopping and changing costumes each time they passed behind a patch of heavy brush. Although Bouchard had recently destroyed Monterey, he departed without destroying the town.

Mexican period

Mission Santa Barbara in 1856; view from the northeast,
with the hills of Hope Ranch to the left.
Source: Wikipedia

In 1822 the Spanish flag came down forever, and Santa Barbara, along with the rest of California, became part of Mexico. One of the earliest notable events in the Mexican period in Santa Barbara was the February 1824 Indian rebellion. The natives especially resented the poor treatment given them by the soldiers stationed at the Presidio. The rebellion, incited by the more warlike Tulares, inland cousins of the Chumash, began at Santa Inés Mission (modern-day Santa Ynez) on the other side of the mountains, and quickly spread to adjacent missions. In Santa Barbara, the Indians seized control of the buildings of the Mission complex, but immediately the buildings were surrounded by Presidio soldiers, since the Presidio was little more than a mile away. Overnight the Indians were able to make a getaway north into Mission Canyon, and then over the mountains, where they eventually linked up with other unsubdued groups of Native Americans in the southern San Joaquin Valley. After a battle near San Emigdio Creek in March, and a subsequent three month pursuit and negotiation, the Indians were all recaptured near Buena Vista Lake, and brought back to Santa Barbara.

During the Mexican period, the government shifted from military to civilian, with the first city council forming in 1826. During this period California opened to trade with the United States and other areas for the first time, and exporting became important to the local economy. Some commodities exported included tallow and hides, both which were carried by ship to Boston to the candle- and shoe-making factories in New England, in return for goods purchased by the locals. One of the most famous English-language descriptions of Santa Barbara from this period is by Richard Henry Dana, Jr., who wrote of the town as a desolate place, at the ends of the earth, in
Two Years Before the Mast:

...the large bay without a vessel in it; the surf roaring and rolling in upon the beach; the white mission; the dark town and the high, treeless mountains ... We lay at a distance of three miles from the beach, and the town was nearly a mile farther; so that we saw little or nothing of it. Occasionally we landed a few goods, which were taken away by the Indians in large, clumsy ox-carts, with the yoke on the ox's neck instead of under it, and with small solid wheels. A few hides were brought down, which we carried off in the California style.

By 1833 the process of secularization at the Missions was completed, and the lands and property were given to the Indians, with most of the Indians becoming Mexican citizens. This had a dramatic effect on the economy and culture, commencing what is called the Rancho Period in California history, a period which overlapped the end of the Mexican era. Lands formerly owned by the Church were parceled out in land grants to applicants; the governors of California awarded over 800 separate land grants before the end of Mexican control in 1847. Many local place names derive from these grants, including Dos Pueblos, Los Prietos y Najalayegua, Nuestra Señora del Refugio, El Rincon, Las Positas y la Calera, and La Goleta. Cattle ranching rapidly expanded, becoming the predominant land use; horsemanship and cattle ownership became the symbols of status, and the society developed quasi-feudal characteristics, in which the largest ranches were almost entirely self-sufficient. The Chumash who previously had served the padres in the Mission system became laborers on the ranches, occupying the lowest rung of the social ladder, with the oldest established families – the Ortegas, De la Guerras, and others – at the top. During this period the town of Santa Barbara grew into a modest, and informally organized collection of pueblos around the central Presidio. A few of these buildings – such as the Covarrubias adobe, on the grounds of the Santa Barbara Historical Society on Santa Barbara Street, which was briefly the location of the capitol of California during the Mexican War – survive to the present day. By the mid-1840s the Mexican period, the population of Santa Barbara had reached approximately 2,500.

The end of the Mexican period came quickly for Santa Barbara, but without bloodshed. War between the United States and Mexico had broken out in May 1846 over the annexation of Texas; in August, Commodore Robert Stockton anchored a warship in Santa Barbara harbor and deployed a contingent of ten Marines to occupy the town. They proceeded to the Presidio where they ran the Stars and Stripes over the city for the first time; not long afterwards, seeing the town was peaceful, they left, being replaced later by ten cavalrymen from John C. Frémont's army. However, a contingent of a hundred Mexican cavalrymen sent by General José Maria Flores came and chased them out. The outnumbered cavalrymen, rather than surrender, fled on foot up into Mission Canyon, and fortified a rocky ridge below La Cumbre Peak, resisting the calls to surrender by their pursuers. When the Mexican force set fire to the chaparral, the Americans clambered over the mountain ridge overnight, escaping north and eventually reaching Monterey, where they joined forces again with Frémont.

The culminating event of the Mexican War for Santa Barbara was Frémont's return, over the surprise route of San Marcos Pass, which at the time was little more than a trail. On the night of December 24, 1846, during a torrential rainstorm, he led his California Battalion over the mountains. In spite of losing many of his horses, mules, and cannon to the treacherous and muddy slopes – and not a one to enemy fire – he reached the foothills on the other side in the vicinity of present-day Tucker's Grove, spent the next several days regrouping, and then marched in to Santa Barbara to capture the Presidio. He encountered no resistance: all men interested in fighting had left for Los Angeles to join the forces headed by Flores and Andres Pico which had assembled to defend that city. On January 3 Frémont headed south, skirting the cliffs of the Rincon at low tide (no road existed then), arriving in Los Angeles ten days later. The Treaty of Cahuenga, signed on January 13, 1847, ended the war in California. After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed a year later, Santa Barbara formally became part of the United States.

U.S. annexation; Gold Rush; Haley; Civil War

Change came quickly after the end of the war. Gold was found at Sutter's Mill in the Sierra foothills, and hordes of gold-seekers flooded into California from the eastern United States, and other places in the world, to become rich. Few did, but Santa Barbara began to attract settlers, as newcomers discovered the charms of the place, including that almost anything planted would grow there. In 1850 California became the 30th state, and immediately after its establishment both Santa Barbara City and County came into being. By 1850 the area was still sparsely populated, with the census showing only 1,185 people for the entire county, but that number doubled in ten years.

Some of the changes that occurred involved administration, communications, construction, urban layout, and transportation. On April 9, 1850, Santa Barbara incorporated as a city, and formed an official town council.[18] The appearance of the town began to change as well. Settlers coming from the east wanted dwellings made from wood, rather than the sensible adobe built by the Spanish and Mexican residents; to build them they needed to import wood from distant Oregon, as the local oak trees were not suitable for lumber. This was one of several pressures that resulted in the development of the port.

Another consequence of the American takeover was the creation of the street grid, which replaced the previous haphazard jumble of dwellings and irregular paths. Its execution, the disastrously bungled survey of 1851 by Salisbury Haley, is a notorious event in local history. Haley's survey chains were broken in places, and held together with oxhide, a material that expanded on damp mornings and contracted in the afternoon sun; since his chains varied in length depending on the time of day he used them, most of his measurements were off, accumulating errors of as much as 45 feet out of true by the time he had crossed the city. Haley had been ordered to create neat square city blocks exactly 450 feet on a side: a subsequent corrective survey established that he had actually created blocks ranging from 457 to 464 feet on a side. The lot misalignments and street grid problems caused by Haley persist to the present day. Kinks in Mission Street at De La Vina, and De La Guerra at Santa Barbara Street are two of the awkward places well-known to city commuters which were resulted from Haley's unfortunate measurements. In addition, it was Haley who decided to lay out the street grid at an angle of approximately 48 degrees from north, with State Street approximately midway between the Mesa and the Riviera, paralleling both hills, an orientation that confuses both residents and visitors. Downtown's Haley Street, named after him, is ironically one of the streets which did not need a dog-leg to compensate for his variable-length chain.

Another change that accompanied the transformation of Santa Barbara from a small village to a significant town was the founding of the first newspaper, the Santa Barbara Gazette, in 1855. The newspaper was half in English and half in Spanish, since the population, not all of whom were bilingual, was split between the two languages. English gradually supplanted Spanish as the language of daily life. Although minutes of the newly formed City Council were kept in English by 1852, Spanish remained the language used for public records until 1870.

The Presidio fell into disrepair after 1848. This photograph shows a portion of
the Santa Barbara Presidio, converted to a residence, around 1880.

The 1850s was a tumultuous and violent period. Life in the town was disrupted by rowdy Americans recently returned from the gold camps in the Sierra foothills, and gangs of toughs and highwaymen. Some of these lawless newcomers targeted the local Spanish population, causing violent racial incidents including lynchings. Outlaws such as Joaquin Murrieta (the Zorro of Hollywood legend, but likely a composite of several different bandits) preyed on travelers on the roadways, and even on citizens in town. The confrontation with the gang led by Jack Powers at the "Battle of Arroyo Burro" in 1853, in which he intimidated and drove away a posse of approximately 200 citizens, was one of the most dramatic incidents of the period. Powers was not thrown out of town until a band of angry and well-armed vigilantes from San Luis Obispo rode to Santa Barbara to get rid of him (he eventually came to a bloody end, murdered and hurled into a den of hungry wild boars in the Mexican state of Sonora). His downfall coincided with the return of law and order after a period in which Santa Barbara was the rowdiest and most dangerous town between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

In 1859, Richard Henry Dana returned, 24 years after his first visit as a 20-year-old sailor, and described the changes in the town:

...and there lies Santa Barbara on its plain, with its amphitheatre of high hills and distant mountains. There is the old white Mission with its belfries, and there the town, with its one-story adobe houses, with here and there a two-story wooden house of later build; yet little it is altered – the same repose in the golden sunlight and glorious climate, sheltered by its hills; and then, more remindful than anything else, there roars and tumbles upon the beach the same grand surf of the great Pacific as on the beautiful day when the Pilgrim, after her five months'

In that same year, 1859, Santa Barbara recorded the highest temperature ever noted on the North American continent, 133 °F, a record which was to stand until Death Valley topped it by one degree in 1913. The U.S. Coast Survey wrote that birds dropped dead in midair, cattle died in the fields, and fruit dropped, scorched, from trees; the town's inhabitants fled to the safety of their adobe buildings, which insulated them from the freak superheated northwest simoon wind, an event which has not occurred since. In the immediately following years, two other weather events had a significant effect on the course of development in Santa Barbara: catastrophic floods during the winter of 1861-62, during which the Goleta Slough, formerly open to deep-water vessels, completely silted up, becoming the marsh it remains to the present day; and the disastrous drought of 1863, which forever ended the Rancho era as the value of rangeland collapsed, cattle died or were sold off, and the large ranches were broken down and sold in smaller parcels for development.

Victorian period

The town continued to grow, and slowly ended its isolation after the Civil War. The war itself had little effect on Santa Barbara. One troop of cavalry organized to join the Union cause, but never saw action against Confederate forces; they served briefly and bloodlessly in Arizona versus Apache raids. In 1869, the first coeducational preparatory school in southern California, Santa Barbara College, opened at State and Anapamu Streets. Improvements in the harbor included the building of Stearns Wharf in 1872, which increased the commercial capacity of the port; formerly, ships had to anchor several miles offshore, and load and unload their cargoes by rowing small boats to the shore. In that same year, Jose Lobero built an opera house (at the current site of the Lobero Theatre), State Street was paved, and gas lamps were lit downtown.

Not only did the development of the Summerland Oil Field transform Santa Barbara's
economy, it was the location of the world's first offshore oil well.

Writer Charles Nordhoff, commissioned by Southern Pacific Railroad to write about Santa Barbara to draw easterners to the town, was largely responsible for the boom in the tourism industry that commenced in the 1870s, and which would eventually lead to Santa Barbara becoming a world-famous resort. He praised Santa Barbara as the "pleasantest" spot in California, and particularly delightful for those suffering health ills; his book resulted in steamships full of travelers, many of whom came to stay. The luxurious and instantly famous Arlington Hotel, built in 1874 (and destroyed by fire in 1909), housed many of them.

The isolation of Santa Barbara ended in stages. The building of Stearns Wharf allowed easy access by steamboat; in 1887, the railroad to Los Angeles was completed; and in 1901, the railroad was put through to San Francisco. Santa Barbara was finally accessible both by land and sea. The day that the first train arrived from San Francisco was also the last day that the stagecoach bumped over dusty San Marcos Pass. These new connections made possible Santa Barbara's development into the resort destination it has remained ever since.[36] Within the city, the first electric streetcar line opened in 1896, as the demand for transportation increased. By 1900, the population had reached 6,587, doubling in twenty years.

The discovery of oil changed the local economy as well as the landscape. While the black gooey stuff had long been known from natural oil seeps, and was used as a roof sealant during the building of the Mission, its value as a fuel did not become widely known until the late 19th century. In the 1890s, the large Summerland Oil Field was found and began to be developed. Summerland was the site of the world's first offshore oil well. While most of the oil had been pumped out by 1910, derricks remained on the beach in Summerland into the 1920s, and the field remained partially productive until 1940.

Early 20th century to World War II

Santa Barbara police officers working as extras during
filming of a 1915 Flying A movie production.

Santa Barbara was the center of the U.S. silent film industry from 1910 to 1922, before anyone associated the name "Hollywood" with movies. The Flying A Studios, a division of the American Film Company, covered two city blocks centered at State and Mission Streets, and was at the time the largest movie studio in the world.[38] It produced approximately 1,200 films during those twelve years, including the world's first indoor set and likely the first animated cartoon. Only about 100 of those films are known to survive today. Many of the studio's films were westerns; Lon Chaney, Sr. and Victor Fleming were among the famous actors featured. In 1911, before the Flying A had become the predominant studio in the area, there were 13 separate film companies in Santa Barbara. The local film era ended in 1922 when the studios moved south, needing the resources of a larger city.

During this period, the city continued to grow, and at an even faster pace. By 1920 the population had reached 19,441, tripling in twenty years. The completion of the water tunnel under the mountains to newly-completed Gibraltar Reservoir on the Santa Ynez River relieved the water shortages for a time. Also during the teens, a movement for city beautification commenced, led by Bernard Hoffman and later by Pearl Chase; their idea was to unify the city's architecture around a Spanish Colonial style, harmonious with the Mission and surviving pueblos. Many of the buildings from the late 19th century were, to their eyes and the eyes of many citizens, ugly, dilapidated, and no different from those in dozens of other run-down western towns. The Lobero Theatre, built on the site of the original Lobero Opera House in 1924, was an example of the architectural style they promoted, as was the first part of the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum.

1925 earthquake. View of the collapsed San Marcos
building, at Anapamu and State Streets.

The most destructive earthquake in Santa Barbara history, and the first destructive earthquake since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, occurred on June 29, 1925, converting much of the town to heaps of rubble. While the quake's epicenter was centered on an undetermined fault offshore, most of the damage came about due to two strong aftershocks which occurred onshore and five minutes apart. The intensity on the Modified Mercalli scale was determined to be VIII for the coast from Goleta, through Santa Barbara, and to Carpinteria.

The low death toll (13 or 14) is credited to its early hour, 6:23 a.m., before most people were in the streets at risk from falling masonry. A fire which broke out after the earthquake destroyed more of the town, but was contained by a company of U.S. Marines who had arrived immediately to help maintain order. The earthquake, coinciding with the movement for architectural reform, is credited with giving the town its unified Spanish character; during the rebuilding Hoffman and Chase pushed for new structures to be in a Spanish style. The most famous of these was the Spanish-Moorish style County Courthouse, completed in 1929, "the loveliest in the United States." One of the only voices opposing the unification of architectural style was newspaper publisher and future Senator Thomas Storke, who later changed his mind, saying that his former opposition was due to his belief that such compulsion infringed on the constitutional rights of property owners. Storke in 1932 created the city's main newspaper for the next 74 years, the News-Press, by winning a libel suit against his rival Reginald Fernald, and absorbing that publisher's Morning Press into his Daily News.

In 1928 oil was found at Ellwood on the other side of Santa Barbara, and development of this new and rich pool was fast: the peak production in 1930, only two years later, was 14.6 million barrels of oil. As at Summerland, derricks went along piers into the ocean, and the cliffs were dotted with storage tanks. Some of this development remains to the present day, with one active oil well and several large storage tanks, owned by Venoco, Inc.

The Santa Barbara County Courthouse, one of the city's
main tourist attractions, was completed in 1929.

World War II brought sweeping change to the Santa Barbara area. The U.S. Marines took up residence on the high ground adjacent to Goleta Point, current location of the University of California, Santa Barbara campus. The military filled in the Goleta Slough in order to expand the adjacent airport; the U.S. Navy took over the harbor area; and north of Point Conception the Army created Camp Cook, which was later to become Vandenberg Air Force Base. On February 23, 1942, not long after the outbreak of war in the Pacific, a Japanese submarine emerged from the ocean and lobbed about 25 shells at the Ellwood Oil Field facilities, one of only two direct attacks on the U.S. mainland during the entire war, and the first such attack since the War of 1812. Although the gunners were terrible marksmen, and only caused about $500 damage to a catwalk, panic was immediate. Many Santa Barbara residents fled, and land values plummeted to historic lows. Only one week after the attack, on March 2, military authorities issued Public Proclamation No. 1, which began the long internment of Japanese during the war, and approximately 700 people of Japanese ancestry assembled on Cabrillo Boulevard to be taken to Manzanar.

After World War II

After the war ended, many people who had seen Santa Barbara during the war came back to stay. The population grew by 10,000 by 1950, in just five years. During this time the University of California took over the blufftop Marine camp, turning it into a modern university. The burst of growth brought traffic, housing, and water problems, which led to improvements in the transportation system, such as the building of Highway 101 through town; tracts of low-cost housing, especially on the Mesa, where oil derricks were removed and replaced by houses; and the building of Lake Cachuma reservoir on the other side of the mountains, along with another water tunnel to bring its water to thirsty residents. During this period, the city selectively recruited businesses to relocate there, choosing clean industries such as aerospace and techology in preference to the oil industry which had already marred many local landscapes with abandoned wells and sumps.

The oil industry moved most of its local operations offshore during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1947, offshore leases were approved by the Federal government, and seismic exploration of the Channel took place in the 1950s, even though fishermen complained that the underwater explosions were killing fish. The first of the huge black fifteen-story oil platforms, a feature of the seascape south of Santa Barbara for fifty years, went up in 1958. During the period, Stearns Wharf was the main connection for oil services going out to the platforms.

Making the relationship between Santa Barbara and the oil industry even worse was the disaster of January 28, 1969, one of the formative events in the modern environmental movement. A blowout on an offshore oil well at the Dos Cuadras Offshore Oil Field spewed between 80,000 and 100,000 barrels of oil, producing an immense oil slick which spread over hundreds of square miles of ocean in the Santa Barbara Channel, contaminating shorelines, killing wildlife, ruining the tourist industry, and appearing on television screens worldwide. The anti-oil group "GOO" (Get Oil Out) formed shortly after the spill, and oil drilling has been a sensitive issue in the area ever since. Wider consequences of the spill included the 1970 passage of both the National Environmental Protection Act and the California Environmental Quality Act, laws which require assessment of potential environmental impacts of projects before they begin.

Santa Barbara's Lobero Theatre, from Canon Perdido Street.
The theatre opened in 1924, the year before the large earthquake, but survived.
It is an example of the Spanish Colonial architectural style which began to be promoted then.

Several catastrophic fires burned portions of Santa Barbara and the adjacent mountains in the late 20th century. In 1964 the Coyote Fire burned 67,000 acres (270 km2) of backcountry along with 150 homes, blackening the mountain wall behind Santa Barbara, and briefly threatening the entire town of Montecito. In 1977, the smaller but more destructive Sycamore Fire roared down Sycamore Canyon on the northeast fringe of Santa Barbara, destroying over 200 homes. Most destructive of all was the 1990 Painted Cave Fire, which incinerated over 500 homes in just several hours during an intense Sundowner wind event, crossing over the freeway to Hope Ranch, and causing over a quarter billion dollars in damage.

The population center of Santa Barbara moved west during the period, with the buildout of the region west of the De La Vina/State intersection, including the San Roque neighborhood, Hope Ranch Annex, and later the Goleta Valley. As a result the citrus groves which formerly stood in the region were cut down and replaced by housing and commercial districts. Regional shopping centers such as Loreto Plaza, Five Points, and La Cumbre Plaza developed during this period. Between 1960 and 1970, the population of the Goleta Valley rose from only 19,016 to 60,184.

By the mid-1970s, forces opposing uncontrolled growth had become stronger than those favoring development. On April 8, 1975, the City Council passed a resolution to limit the city's population to 85,000 through zoning. In order to limit growth in adjacent areas such as Goleta, it was standard to deny water meters to developments which had been approved by the County Board of Supervisors, effectively shutting off growth. The city and immediately adjacent areas stopped their fast growth, but housing prices rose sharply.

When voters approved connection to State water supplies in 1991, parts of the city, especially outlying areas, resumed growth, but more slowly than during the boom period of the 1950s and 1960s. While the slow growth preserved the quality of life for most residents and prevented the urban sprawl notorious in the Los Angeles basin, housing in the Santa Barbara area was in short supply, and prices soared: in 2006, only six percent of residents could afford a median-value house. As a result, many people who work in Santa Barbara commute from adjacent, more affordable areas, such as Santa Maria, Lompoc, and Ventura. The resultant traffic on incoming arteries, particularly the stretch of Highway 101 between Ventura and Santa Barbara, is another problem being addressed by long-range planners.

The annual Summer Solstice Parade, which began in 1974, is the city's
largest single-day tourist event, commonly drawing over 100,000 visitors.


Santa Barbara County History

Santa Barbara Waterfront History

Chumash Indians

History of the Presidio in Santa Barbara
by Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation

Historical City Adobes


This page was last updated July 26, 2009.